Photo Credit: Afternoon Tea Parties by Susanna Blake, photos by Martin Brigdale (Ryland, Peters and Small)
On the occasion of my 150th post, I would like to thank you all for your kind and generous comments since I started this blog last August. When I started it I had only vague ideas what I would write about, but it would seem that those of you who read my blog regularly enjoy the topics I choose. So here’s to the next 150 posts!
It would be impossible to visit each and every one of you to thank you personally, and so for this post I thought it would be nice to invite you all to a virtual afternoon tea party! Furthermore, I would like to present each of you with a virtual bouquet, it’s no less than readers who call here regularly deserve!
Afternoon tea is a lovely English tradition. It says in my book Afternoon Tea by Jane Pettigrew, “The innovation of the mid-afternoon indulgence called ‘afternoon tea’ is accredited to Anna Maria, 7th Duchess of Bedford. In fact, she did not ‘invent’ the ceremony, but simply gave it a name that settled it as a four o’clock social occasion at a time when the pattern of mealtimes was changing.
When tea first arrived in England in the mid-17th century, it was taken as a settler at the end of dinner, a large, heavy meal that lasted four or five hours from noon to late afternoon. By the early years of the 19th century, this huge meal had shifted to around 7.30pm or even later, leaving a long gap between breakfast and the evening repast. Only light refreshment was provided at midday by the newly invented luncheon, or ‘noonshine’.
And so the Duchess found it pleasing and convenient to serve two or three hours before dinner, as well as (or instead of) after the meal. Indeed, Anna Maria found ‘afternoon tea’ so essential to her daily routine that when she visited friends in their castles and palaces, she took with her a silver kettle and other tea equipage along with her trunks and hat boxes.”
Well, friends, I don’t expect you to bring along your trunks and hat boxes, but to come virtually prepared for an afternoon feast. The cups and saucers are ready, and some glasses for some sparkling wine to add a little fizz to the proceedings or elderflower cordial if you would prefer …
Afternoon tea should always start with the tea itself, and it’s nice to serve at least two kinds – I serve Earl Grey and a light Indian blend, and offer slices of lemon and a jug of milk.
Once the tea has been handed around, for we are seated on low chairs and sofas (high tea is a different meal entirely, but I might write about that another time) I will hand you a small plate and a napkin(never to be referred to as a ‘serviette’ in my hearing, please!) I sometimes have white cotton ones, but more often I use paper tea napkins, which are so pretty. Paper napkins are socially acceptable.
Here come the sandwiches …
Photo credit: Afternoon Tea by Susannah Blake, photographs by Martin Brigdale (Ryland, Peters and Small)
This is an occasion – we are not having a bite to eat while doing the gardening – and so you won’t be served ‘doorstep’ sandwiches. I prefer to cut the sandwiches into ‘fingers’ with all the crusts removed. Finger sandwiches are elegant and the sandwiches should be large enough for two or three bites; not so small they are insignificant, nor so large they require a knife to cut them.
Traditional fillings are combinations of cream cheese & smoked salmon; smoked or unsmoked ham and mustard of chutney; egg & cress and, of course, cucumber.
Cucumber needs preparation. I peel and slice it finely early in the morning and then lay the slices on thick layers of paper kitchen towels and sprinkle with some salt, and then sandwich together with another thick layer of kitchen paper. You will need to change the towel fairly regularly throughout the morning as they will become soaked with the water from the cucumber, but doing this certainly improves the sandwiches and prevents the water that was in the cucumber from making the bread (white bread for cucumber sandwiches) soggy.
Sometimes it’s nice to serve something savoury, especially in autumn or winter, say anchovy toast or small cheese scones filled with watercress …
Having enjoyed your sandwiches, here are the scones, with blackcurrant or strawberry jam. In Devon we put the clotted cream on the split scone first and then top it with jam. In Cornwall they reverse this, putting the jam on first.
Photo Credit: Afternoon Tea by Susanna Blake, photographs by Martin Brigdale (Ryland, Peters and Small)
If you have room, I now have cake for you. How about lemon sponge?
Or perhaps a Victoria sponge filled with raspberries and cream?
Or a slice of fruit cake?
I hope you are all seated comfortably? I’m sorry I wasn’t able to invite you to the Ritz …
Afternoon Tea by Jane Pettigrew (The Ritz Hotel, London; Victoria & Albert Museum) (Pitkin)
But I hope you have enjoyed your afternoon tea and will return home, to all corners of the globe, whether you live in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, America or from wherever you have virtually travelled today. I wish you a safe journey home and perhaps you might wish now to have an afternoon tea party of your own, a real one, to which you invite your friends from your own neighbourhood. There are wonderful books available on the subject of afternoon tea and here are mine …
Keep the food simple, you don’t need to serve astonishingly intricate cupcakes, indeed the more traditional the better (and cupcakes are not an English tradition.)
Thank you so much for coming, I hope you have enjoyed virtual visit!
Speak again soon.